OMAHA, Neb. — The U.S. military is increasingly pushing its space industrial base to deliver capabilities to the field in shorter timelines, a trend space executives say is necessary given the ever-evolving nature of the threat and military’s reliance on space for fighting wars.
The United States is more reliant than ever on space-based capabilities for military operations, and recent war gaming exercises have shown potential adversaries would be able to disrupt or disable many of these capabilities. Government and industry need to work together to rethink how space systems are designed, built and operated given that the space environment is no longer a sanctuary, Wanda Austin, chief executive of the Aerospace Corp. of Los Angeles, said during a Nov. 4 panel of space executives at the Strategic Space Symposium here.
“With the Schreiver 5 War Games, we had to focus on what it would be like to have a day without space,” Austin said. “What we discovered is it would probably last more like a year before we could reconstitute space capabilities. We need to rethink at multiple levels what we need to do now to strengthen our space operations capability in order to promote global security.”
Reducing the time it takes to develop the large space systems the United States builds is essential, said Brian Arnold, vice president for space strategy at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif. Taking six years to nine years to field a satellite system gives U.S. adversaries too much time to change tactics, said Arnold, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and former commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.
In an effort to reduce development times on its space sensors, Raytheon is using more standardized components and processes, Arnold said. Recent examples of this are a radar-imaging sensor aboard the Indian Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter that ceased operation in August and an experimental hyperspectral sensor now flying on the Pentagon’s TacSat-3 mission. The latter sensor was finished in 15 months for $15 million, Arnold said.
While the abilities to reconstitute space systems in a crisis and get capabilities to warfighters more quickly are worthy objectives, the government must be careful in how it carries out these goals, said David DiCarlo, vice president of the space systems division at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems of Los Angeles.
“One of the big mistakes here would be to go too fast or address the situation too narrowly,” DiCarlo said. “The concern would be if you start off on the wrong foot it would be hard to recover. Demand for these capabilities may be so great that no processes would be able to meet all of them on the desired timelines.”
Driving down development costs and shortening delivery timelines will require the government and industry to work together in smarter ways to achieve the same level of high mission assurance, he said. One way this can be done is to develop new satellite components to high levels of technological readiness, and then insert those new technologies into existing satellite production lines. This would result in shorter timelines for satellite development and maintain industrial bases, which suffer during the long droughts between generations of space systems, DiCarlo said.
Reducing cycle times in satellite development will be closely related to the military’s ability to restrain itself from making major programmatic changes midstream, said Rick Ambrose, vice president for surveillance and navigation systems at Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif. This fact is especially relevant given that many of the United States’ next-generation space systems are moving from the development to production phase, he said. Changing requirements in the middle of a program’s development increases costs and generally creates turmoil and uncertainty. Ambrose cited a recent study from the Pentagon’s Cost Analysis and Improvement Group that found programs with greater requirements stability result in more quickly fielded capabilities.